Aug 15, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
We've seen lots of news about the Chevy Volt in the past few days -- all encouraging. It's getting more real, though large scale production is still more than two years away. After a few items on Toyota, we summarize/excerpt the main news and introduce an idea for GM's consideration.
FIRST, ABOUT TOYOTA: We've seen reports from the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars (automotive insider event) that Toyota will produce a PHEV in 2010. It remains unclear whether this is a broader commitment than the previously stated plan to deliver 400 PHEVs for fleet evaluation in late 2009-2010.
TOYOTA PHEV SCHEDULE: Here are excerpts from the Associated Press story by Tom Krisher, "Toyota says its making progress on plug-in vehicle:" Toyota Motor Corp. plans to bring a plug-in hybrid vehicle to market sometime in 2010, and Justin Ward, manager of the automaker's advanced powertrain program in the U.S., said the design will be similar to that of the current Prius....Ward said that like GM, Toyota has been testing lithium-ion battery packs in the lab and in prototype cars....Ward said he's also confident that Toyota can reach its 2010 goal, and he said the Japanese automaker knows the importance of being out front with plug-in and hybrid technology. "There's always value in being the leader, but it can't be your primary driver," he said. "Your primary driver needs to be what's best for society in general." http://searchchicago.suntimes.com/autos/news/1109809,AP081508_toyotaplugin.article
TOYOTA AS COMPETITOR: In the context of Justin Ward's comments about the race to be #1, another Toyota executive explains at least in part why Toyota has been in no hurry. Excerpts from Bryce G. Hoffman on Augu 12, "Toyota roots for Detroit Three Rivals:" A senior Toyota Motor Corp. executive told The Detroit News today that the failure of one of Detroit's Big Three automakers would be devastating for his company. "We want everyone to succeed," said Steve St. Angelo, head of Toyota's Kentucky assembly plant and senior vice president in charge of engineering and manufacturing for North America. "Competition is good for us. The customers are the big winners, because it makes all of us better... When GM, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota are healthy, the economy is stable and it's the best for all of us," he said...."When any of our competitors want to come to our plants, we let them," he said. "We really don't want anybody to go bankrupt." http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080812/AUTO01/808120448/1148
BACK TO GM: For the latest anytime on the Volt, check out http://www.gm-volt.com and/or get on the mailing list or RSS feed.)
FINAL DESIGN AND FIRST PROTOTYPES: Poornima Gupta and Soyoung Kim from Reuters reported August 14 "GM to finish electric car design by mid-September:" General Motors Corp said on Thursday it would finalize the design of the all-electric Chevy Volt by mid-September and aims to have 50 prototypes with production-ready parts by the end of 2008...."We have one gate in our process we call a styling freeze, which is happening in the middle of September," Frank Weber, GM's vehicle line executive in charge of the Volt, told reporters on the sidelines of an automotive conference. "The No. 1 priority is to make the battery program robust," Weber said... "The conceptual future is not to extend the range much further.... The future is to take the same range and the same original 40 miles but then have battery packs about half the size, twice the robustness and half the cost...." "We've always said the Volt is not a niche program," he said. "Niche volume would not work. All the suppliers are looking for significant volumes to build up capacity and make sure this also works for them." http://www.reuters.com/article/ousiv/idUSN1447206620080814 (See our reaction below.)
ENGINEERING ON TRACK/NO IMPEDIMENTS: The AP's Tom Krishner reported August 13 that "GM engineer says rechargeable car is on schedule:" Early versions of the Chevrolet Volt's battery packs are powerful enough to run the high-stakes rechargeable car, but dozens of issues remain before General Motors Corp. can start selling the revolutionary vehicle in 2010 as planned...."At this point, there's nothing standing in our way of continuing to do what we said we're going to do," Andrew Farah, the Volt's chief engineer, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press...."It'll have a similar set of visual cues and some of the features that were on the concept car," Farah said. Late last year, it looked like the Volt's schedule would be derailed by battery delays....GM engineers used the time to work on the mechanical connections. Batteries arrived in January at GM's sprawling Warren, Mich., technical center, and the team has nearly erased the 10-week deficit, Farah said. http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5iFHOu2alXYE7teF1NAFYU6FiLw8QD92HJS8G0
GM-VOLT.COM PROVES DEMAND; GM EXPECTS SHORTAGES: GM-Volt.com got broad media attention by announcing 33,411 serious buyers for the car from 50 states and 46 countries (the most came from California). Their average price point is $31,261, somewhat lower than GM has been hinting the car would sell for. But none of this takes into account the impact if, as we expect, the next President offers a substantial tax credit in the $3-$10K range. Interviewed by Reuters' Kevin Krolicki in an August 12 report, "Over 33,000 buyers signed up for GM electric car;" A GM spokesman said that the automaker expected an initial shortage for the Volt, similar to the shortages for other hot-selling recent models. "I don't know if there is any other vehicle or any other technology that has generated this kind of interest because of the state of the market and gas prices," said GM spokesman Dave Darovitz. "We know the demand is going to be there." http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSN1251261520080812?sp=true . Also, on Fox Business News Videos http://www.foxbusiness.com/video/index.html , see our comments at Aug 14 GM Volt (3:46 part 1) and Electric Vehicles (4:22 part 2).
DESIGN NEWS: Bob Boniface, Design Director, shows a few photos and explains the thinking behind the car's design at http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/archives/2008/08/all_eyes_on_the_volt.html and gave a few more details in an interview with GM-Volt.com, including the fact that the vehicle will have a center touch-sensitive display screen and a second screen. http://gm-volt.com/2008/08/14/exclusive-interview-with-chevy-volt-chief-designer-about-the-production-car/
GM VOLT IN EUROPE: European media report the company (which already pllans a diesel versioin from Opel in 2011) is in discussions with the British government about bringing the Volt to the UK and Europe: http://www.autocar.co.uk/News/NewsArticle/Chevrolet-Concepts/234479/
FROM CALCARS: HOW GM CAN CONTINUE TO "THINK DIFFERENT:" Millions of potential customers hope GM will deliver an exciting, compelling product and thereby help reincarnate the 100-year-old company. In recognition of their stake in the Volt, GM has taken the admirable and unprecedented decision to provide the public with a large open window into its design and development processes. The company provides in-depth information and invites comments at its recently streamlined FastLane Blog http://fastlane.gmblogs.com. It has opened its media events and auto show private meetings to online media, skeptics and those who never recovered from the EV1 experience. Its briefers have taken press conference questions from plug-in vehicle advocates. We fervently hope that GM will further expand this approach as it completes design and plans production, launch, marketing and distribution.
We're especially encouraged that senior managers have been paying attention to advocates and drivers of plug-in vehicles. In March 2007, phoning into an "Advanced Battery Technology Briefing," we suggested to GM Vice President Beth Lowery and other executives that plug-in advocates and the State of California could open doors as energetic partners with GM. (See our report at "GM's Media Briefing on PHEVs Offers Major Opportunity" http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/713.html .) Since then, we've often reminded them of our offer to roll out a green carpet to bolster their commercialization plans. GM has responded positively.
ABOUT THOSE PARTNERS: California's utilities that have through dry spells maintained Electric Transportation departments are doing all they can to facilitate the carmakers' transition to plug-in vehicles. Along with the Electric Power Research Institute, they've already developed several promising partnerships. We've emphasized our view that California's Air Resources Board and Energy Commission will be if asked accommodate accelerated phase-ins for pre-launch mini-fleets via flexible regulations. And we've made the case that several sizeable groups -- former drivers of production EVs from GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Selectria and others, those who still drive Toyota RAV4 EVs, and the growing number of drivers of Prius and Escape PHEV conversions -- represent an untapped resource. We can in effect be an informal focus group to comment on and provide feedback about a new product in late-stage development.
FIRST STEP: We took as evidence that our executives recognize the value of our offers that Tony Posawatz, the Volt's Vehicle Line Director, recently asked CalCars to organize a get-together with plug-in community members to talk about technology and our driving experiences. We brought together a dozen people, broadly representative of the plug-in community. (Uncharacteristically, scheduling conflicts led to an all-male group.) See photo with IDs of the resulting August 5th event at Pat's Garage in San Francisco http://www.calcars.org/photos-groups.html . Our group was interested in hearing what he could share about the current thinking of the engineering team. And Posawatz was open to our suggestions, including issues relating to charging, interfaces and displays, and customer expectations for the Volt. Our expectations that the meeting would be a productive two-way exchange were fully realized. We al were surprised and excited by new ideas and approaches. All agreed to find ways to continue the dialogue.
ABOUT THOSE FIRST VOLTS: This dialogue got us thinking: What if GM, having placed such major bets on the Volt, took one more leap of faith? It involves those eagerly-awaited first 50+ prototypes or their immediate successors. Of course, the company's engineers will put these beta vehicles through all sorts of tests and evaluations. And we hope the media will get more than spy-photo images -- though it's reasonable to expect journalists to refrain from reviewing a product in development.
Our idea is inspired by GM's Project Driveway which this year seeds 100 fuel-cell SUVs in three geographical areas. It's in the spirit of out-of-town theatrical tryouts before Broadway premieres. Today we propose that as soon as GM has prototypes for which safety and general reliability are assured -- for what may be version 0.5, or the next v0.6 batch -- the company get the reactions of experts and grass-roots veterans. We suggest they seed a few dozen short-term loaned vehicles to the people and institutions whose feedback are most likely to result in tweaks and improvements before the v1.0 product.
In California, we nominate the ARB and CEC, the state's utilities and EPRI, University of California programs, and (you wouldn't expect us to leave ourseves out) CalCars, the Electric Auto Association and Plug In America. Elsewhere, the National Labs, GM-Volt.com, Plug-In Partners, the leading energy security and environmental groups. And if possible, one to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, to provide source material for the speechwriters and spur on other automakers.
If you see an appropriate place to endorse or expand on this idea, at http://fastlane.gmblogs.com or other green car posting locations, it might help.